Pre-millennialism or Post-millennialism, Calvinism or Arminianism, Believers Baptism or Infant Baptism; these and more are issues Christians have, for centuries, found themselves on either side of the issue. These debates, however, are all secondary and have no ultimate effect on our salvation. Unity is part of obedience and commanded of God’s people throughout the Bible, especially now in the postmodern age of secularism, skepticism, atheism, theological liberalism, Islam, and new age spirituality, Christianity must make unity a top priority. Although there are secondary in-house issues that it can be healthy to disagree or debate with one another on, there are also primary issues that must bring us into accord. This blog will be part 1 on this topic and will be foundational in our unity in Christ as it deals with our ultimate source of truth.
Any ultimate source of truth must be self authenticating, if it is not then whatever must be used to validate it supersedes it’s authority. For the sake of this post, I will not get into what constitutes cannon or compare and contrast the different canonical models (though it will be addressed in a later blog) but rather this will be operating with the understanding that what constitutes the Bible is the 66 books of the Old and New Testament (not counting the six books added by the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent in the 1500’s).
On what must we agree? The doctrine of Sola Scriptura- Scripture Alone. This doctrine was a rally cry of the Protestant Reformers as the Roman Catholic Church had gotten away from the Bible and was teaching foreign concepts not found in scripture. This was and is a call to get back to using Bible to fix our theology.
Sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture.
Sola Scriptura means that the Bible is our ultimate source of truth. Sola Scriptura says that the Bible is not only sufficient for our understanding of both God and self but is the only complete and infallible rule of faith. While we may have traditions, creeds, and confessions, (and such things can be extremely useful and edifying) all of them must be tested against the Bible and corrected by it when necessary.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
Inerrancy: For the bible to be sufficient for anything it must first be not only true but divinely inspired (in my last blog I addressed why we believe this here ). When we say that the Bible is inerrant, we mean that God (through the Holy Spirit) wrote it through humans and that it was perfect in its original form. What we recognize today as “The Bible” is a library of divinely inspired writings that are self authenticating and authenticate and confirm one another. In a sense, the church compiled the library that is the Bible, but in a more true sense the people of God recognized which books God had written.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
Part of inerrancy is the immutability, God’s Word doesn’t change. God’s word is what he intended it to be, he was not limited by cultural restraints of first century Mediterranean Jews. If God meant to say something different about sexual ethics, he would have. If God meant to give different criteria for the church position of Elder/Overseer/Pastor, he would have. His Word doesn’t change.
“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” Isaiah 40:8
What inerrancy does not mean is that there are not textual errors or discrepancies within our English translations. Secular skeptics of inerrancy will point to this as a disproof; there are many such errors but even the most antagonistic critics like Bart Ehrman admit that these errors don’t affect any doctrine and the English translations we have today contain about a 1% variation; (based on the 20,000+ manuscripts we now have) this charge simply doesn’t hold water when examined. Islam also brings charges of textual corruption but these charges turn out to be horribly self defeating: the Koran claims that both the Old and New Testaments are the word of God, it also claims that the words of God cannot be corrupted. As anyone who has read both books knows, the Koran contradicts the Bible on many occasions (the most obvious being that the Koran denies the death and resurrection of Jesus), to put it together: if the Koran is true the Bible is true, and if the Bible is true the Koran is false.
When we abandon inerrancy we get theological liberalism and elevate ourselves to the position of “God’s Editor”
“Does the Bible really mean that?” “Yeah but that was written thousands of years ago and doesn’t apply anymore.” “I think Paul was pushing his own uninspired beliefs here.” “I reject this verse.”
On the sufficiency of scripture, the London Baptist Confession wonderfully articulates:
“The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men.”
God gives us revelation in two forms, Natural and Special. Natural revelation refers to how he has revealed himself through nature- for example we can look at the order and design of the universe and learn something about him based off of that. Special revelation, on the other hand, is his infallible revelation through things like God’s spoken words, Prophets, Jesus, and finally the Bible.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
Christians today debate whether or not the spiritual gift of prophecy ceased with the closing of the canon of the Bible. That being said, those who do believe it continues will confirm that this “revelation” is not infallible and is subject to man’s interpretation and shortcomings, very unlike Biblical revelation. An examples of this would be the Holy Spirit giving the Christian a particular insight over a situation for the purpose of convicting someone. This is obviously very different from the direct way God spoke to Isaiah or John when he wrote the Bible through them and as such the type of prophecy argued for today should not be categorized as “special revelation”. God, in the scriptures, has sufficiently and directly revealed who he is, who we are, what our duties are, and how we can be saved- we need no further special revelation, no new prophets, no new holy books. The Bible is sufficient.
What sufficiency does not mean is denial of illumination. Illumination is when the Holy Spirit applies the truth of his Word is to the believer’s life- when something jumps off the page, or something they have read a dozen times finally clicks. What this also does not mean is that everyone will agree on all secondary issues- there are some things that a decent case can be made for different interpretations, like whether the Millennial Reign of Jesus in Revelation 20 refers to a literal or figurative period of time. The important thing though is when Christians debate this issue they both will go to the same source of truth to make their case. When you look closely at the many denominations within Christianity, those that hold Sola Scriptura agree on all or just about all of what they would consider “the majors”. Their differences tend to be more stylistic or liturgical but the core message they preach will be the same.
When we abandon sufficiency we embrace things that aren’t inerrant- emotions, private revelations, extra testaments etc… Since God has laid down a plan of salvation who are we to try to find other ways? Since God has revealed himself in a certain way who are we to try to re-imagine him? This is why things like Paul Young’s “The Shack” are so offensive, because (among other things) they try to present God in a way other than the way He has revealed himself to be- they present God as something made in our image instead of vice versa. Since God has fully spoken in the Old and New Testaments how dare we attempt to add a third testament like the book of Mormon or Koran? What more could we possibly ask for than God’s complete diary?
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
“Church history has repeatedly and clearly proven one thing: Once the highest view of Scripture is abandoned by any theologian, group, denomination, or church, the downhill slide in both its theology and practice is inevitable.” – Dr James White
When we abandon Sola Scriptura we embrace madness.
When we agree on our source of truth, the rest falls into place and our differences diminish. The Bible must be our ultimate authority, our source of truth, and our catalyst for unity. “Sola Scriptura!” was the cry of the reformers, may it be our cry as well as we keep on reforming by getting back to the Bible.
“Sola Scriptura” James White
“Systematic Theology” Wayne Grudem